Sunday, December 31, 2006

Helping Hands Korea logistical support to North Korean refugees in China

We contracted with one of our long-term, tried and proven Christian partners near the China-North Korean border to provide shelter for a total of 50 North Korean refugees for the three coldest months of the upcoming winter.

Rescue and shelter funds were also provided to another partner, who will guide refugees to the Mongolian border, and also re-supply refugees in mountain shelters.

Another faithful partner was entrusted with funds to put eight children, who are abandoned offspring of trafficked North Korean women refugees (and the Chinese men who purchase them).

When the North Korean women are caught by Chinese police and repatriated to North Korea, often the Chinese partners abandon the children and make no legal claim to them. Therefore, little ad hoc orphanages are springing up in NE China to care for these pitiful victims of a tragedy that is so entirely incomprehensible to them.

---Tim Peters, Helping Hands Korea

[The above is delayed news, necessary for the security of the above movements]

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Food shortage in North Korea could deteriorate into widespread famine

North Korea’s chronic food shortage could deteriorate into widespread famine similar to the mid-1990s when an estimated 1 million North Koreans died from starvation, according to aid agencies.

Aid workers attribute the dire situation to cuts in the North’s government-provided ration, the inability of the urban poor to buy food at market prices, and the international community’s reluctance to give aid.

Tim Peters, founder of aid agency Helping Hands Korea, said that “enlarging pockets of areas” are again experiencing famine, and in the northeastern city of Cheongjin, the food shortage is worse than 10 years ago.

“It’s backpedaling to the situation of the 1990s,” Peters told The Korea Herald.

He said urban areas are the worst-affected. Farmers are able to cultivate a private patch whereas city dwellers cannot. Through a network of North Korean refugees in China, Peters learned that during the planting season in May, city government offices were emptied as workers were mobilized to work on farms.

With the average North Korean wage being 2,500 won a month, most can afford only 3 kilograms a month, putting rice out of reach for most North Koreans.

Peters met a woman last August who had crossed the border to seek medical attention for her daughter’s heart condition. She told him that her husband worked in a factory and earned 1,500 won ($1.20 at that time) a day and their family of four lived mostly of corn meal which cost 200 won per kilogram. As they lived in a semi-rural area, they did not receive any government distribution, but they kept two pigs, chickens and dogs which they would sell so that they could buy more corn. They were able to eat three times a day on a diet of corn meal, kimchi and doenjang (soy bean paste). In their community they were considered well-off.

“Usually I’m optimistic by nature, but the situation is very grim at the moment,” said Peters who has been working with North Korean refugees for 9 years.

His Seoul-based nongovernmental organization currently supports a bakery in China that produces high-nutrition buns which are distributed in North Korea, by North Koreans at the grass-roots level, to schoolchildren and orphans. This is more effective than handing out raw grain as cooking fuel is expensive he said.

“It’s indicative of what little grass-roots organizations and ‘mom-n-pop’ NGOs can do. We can make a difference,” Peters said.

[Excerpt of an article by Jane Cooper, Korea Herald]

Friday, December 29, 2006

North Korean Defector Gets Death Threats

South Korean police are investigating a threatening package sent to former North Korean Workers' Party official Hwang Jang-yup, who defected to the South in 1997.

Freedom North Korea Broadcast, which Hwang chairs, received a 20x40 cm package wrapped in yellow paper. It was addressed to Hwang, and a sender's name and phone number were written on it, but the number did not exist.

"When we opened it, we found Hwang's photo smeared with red paint and a 37 cm long hand ax,” the station's president Kim Sung-min said. An enclosed letter added, “Hwang should shut his dirty mouth” and “Traitors must pay the price.”

Hwang has been subject to such threats several times, usually after he made disparaging remarks about the North. In March 2003, Hwang received a package with a scroll-sized photo of Hwang stabbed through with a 30 cm knife and the written message “I will kill you.” That was right after Hwang visited Japan's parliament to testify about human rights conditions in the North.

"The threats keep coming, but Hwang just seems to accept them and says he could not do anything if he was scared by them,” Kim said.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

North Korean elites now a "skeptical class"

In the past decade many North Korean families have had their state-enforced high ideals shattered, according to refugees and nongovernmental and academic sources working with them. A recent high-level defector from Pyongyang confirms that many elites in the North are now a "skeptical class," according to sources in South Korea's national unification ministry.

North Korea today faces a paradox: While its material standard of living has been improving fro some, moving from awful to less awful - its morale and its collective beliefs continue to fray. The quality of patriotism, military discipline, and ideological purity - elements that have uniquely bound the North - are shaky, say many sources.

Local authority figures of respect have spent a decade foraging for cash and food, like everyone else.

A "feeling of positive emotion" is missing in the North, reports a Seoul-based researcher on the Chinese-North Korean border. "People have stopped seeing each other as people; everything is money.... It used to be that everyone looked up to public officials ... to the Army. Now they are on the take," says a Korean reporter for NKnet, a newsletter in Seoul headed by Han Ki-hong, a leftist who is critical of the North's human rights violations.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

North Korea in decline?

Information leaking out of North Korea suggests both the economy and internal political support for the Kim Jong-il regime are deteriorating. In recent weeks, South Korean media have cited intelligence and other sources claiming the financial restrictions imposed by the U.S. Treasury are having an effect.

For years the State Department and Pentagon tried without success to find ways to pressure North Korea. The Kim dynasty that has ruled the country since World War II emphasizes "juche," or self-reliance, refusing to make concessions to obtain foreign aid, even if it means allowing its people to starve.

But now the Treasury Department has found the North's Achilles heel -- the laundered money and luxury goods the leadership bestows on the military and other members of the elite to keep their support. In addition to blocking North Korean bank accounts, the Treasury convinced financial institutions worldwide, concerned about possible adverse effects on their dollar transactions, to stop doing business with North Korea. The drop in foreign exchange earnings reportedly is said to have forced Mr. Kim to suspend his custom of dispensing money and gifts to his top aides.

[The threat to Kim Jong-il’s] regime caused by unrest resulting from economic difficulties and food shortages. A South Korean aid official told the press the fuel shortage in the North is worse than he has ever seen it, and power outages are more frequent than at any time in the last 10 years.

South Korean intelligence reportedly claims the unrest has spread to the party, government, and military elites who keep Chairman Kim in power. ... Regime change is the only realistic long-term solution.

[Excerpt of commentary by James T. Hackett, The Washington Times]

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

US wrecked hopes of North Korean nuke deal

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun has accused the United States of wrecking last year's agreement to scrap North Korea's nuclear programmes by simultaneously imposing financial sanctions.

Roh, in strongly-worded comments reported in Friday's media, also suggested the US Treasury and State Departments are split in their approach to the sanctions, which were a key sticking point in this past week's nuclear negotiations.

"If you look at it in a bad light, you may say (the two US departments) were playing a prearranged game," he said, according to an official transcript of his speech delivered Thursday.

Roh noted that the US blacklisting of Macau's Banco Delta Asia (BDA) -- a move which led to the freezing of 24 million dollars in North Korean accounts -- came just a few days before the agreement on September 19, 2005. Six-nation nuclear negotiations which began in 2003 achieved an apparent breakthrough on that date when the North agreed in principle to scrap its nuclear programmes in return for economic and energy aid and security guarantees.

But North Korea boycotted the forum two months later in protest at the curbs on the BDA accounts, which sparked similar action elsewhere in Asia and effectively shut it out of much of the international banking system.

When talks resumed in Beijing this past week the communist state insisted that the issue be resolved before any further negotiations on denuclearisation. The talks ended Friday without apparent agreement and without setting a firm date to meet again.

[The Daily Star]

Monday, December 25, 2006

Korean aid worker Choi Yong-hun released

South Korean aid worker Choi Yong-hun has just been released after serving nearly four years in a Chinese jail for trying to help North Koreans defect.

There were emotional scenes at Seoul airport as Choi was reunited with his wife and two daughters, while Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea looked on.

Choi's family had to wait 90 minutes before he finally came through the Arrivals gate at Seoul Airport because he was immediately detained by the South Korean authorities for questioning.

Tim Peters says: 'When he finally did come out, he was rejoicing in the Lord as he embraced his family and fellow activists. He told of torture at the hands of prison guards and fellow prisoners, mainly due to his Christian faith.'

Choi was arrested in 2003 for his part in the well publicised Yantai boat incident in which a group of 30 North Koreans tried to escape from China to South Korea by sea. One of his four fellow defendants, a North Korean called Park Yong-chol, was repatriated to his homeland after serving two years in a Chinese jail. Park's fate remains unknown.

China insists on dealing harshly with North Korean defectors and those who try to help them, often repatriating refugees to their homeland.

[Release International]

Sunday, December 24, 2006

North Korea may face famine with aid cuts

North Korea may face famine because the international community halted aid to the impoverished communist country following Pyongyang's recent nuclear test, an American relief worker said.

"I think that it's very possible that North Korea will slide back to the famine condition of the 1990s," Tim Peters, a Seoul-based U.S. activist working [with Helping Hands Korea] to help North Korean refugees find asylum, said in a phone interview.

As many as 2 million North Koreans are believed to have died in the 1990s from food shortages caused by government mismanagement and the loss of aid from the Soviet Union after it collapsed.

Peters blamed the looming crisis on North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, whose regime's missile and nuclear tests in recent months have further alienated the North, leading many countries to cut assistance.

South Korea, one of major donors to the North, also halted its regular government humanitarian aid after the North's missile launches in July, and vowed to comply with U.N. sanctions imposed against Pyongyang after its Oct. 9 nuclear test.

The North has already faced food shortages as massive floods in mid-July wiped out crops along with homes and roads. The actual scale of the destruction remains unknown.

[The Associated Press]

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Background of Pastor Phillip Buck

Pastor Buck was born in North Korea in 1941 and fled with his brothers to the South during the Korean War. He emigrated to the U.S. in the '80s, becoming a citizen in 1992. When famine hit North Korea in the late '90s, and millions died, he raised relief funds in Korean churches in the U.S.

"I helped send 150 tons of flour and rice to the North," he says, "and 70 tons of fertilizer . . . This was a time when government rations had stopped and people were living off grass."

But on visits to the North, he soon realized that the government was stealing the food intended for starving citizens. "I changed my mind" about the efficacy of aid, he says, and in 1998 he joined the effort to help people escape. "If you see someone who is drowning in the river, wouldn't you reach out and help that person?" he asks. "That's what was in my heart."

Pastor Buck is nothing if not determined. In 2002, while in a Southeast Asian country with a group of refugees he had guided there, his apartment in Yanji city, in northeast China, was raided. Nineteen refugees were captured and a copy of his passport was confiscated. With his identity now compromised, Mr. Buck returned to the U.S. and underwent legal proceedings to change his name. John Yoon, the name he was born with, was dead; Phillip Buck was born.

The new Pastor Buck returned to China, where, on May 25, 2005, he was arrested and eventually convicted of the crime of helping illegal immigrants. Thanks to the intervention of the U.S. government, he was deported before he could be sentenced.

[Excerpt of an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal]

Footnote fromTim Peters of Helping Hands KoreaIn our continued partnership with Phillip Buck, we were able to provide the funds for three of the North Korean refugees who were caught when Phillip was caught, who all three have now been transferred at last to a safe haven.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Pastor Buck Is a Rescuer . . .

This being The Wall Street Journal, we went straight to the bottom line. How much, we asked our visitor at a recent editorial board meeting, does it cost to free one North Korean refugee hiding in China?

The Rev. Phillip Buck pauses a moment before replying, apparently making the yuan-to-dollar conversions on the abacus in his mind. "If I do it myself," he says, "the cost is $800 per person. If I hire a broker to do it, it's $1,500."

Pastor Buck is a rescuer. It's a job title that applies to a courageous few--mostly Americans and South Koreans and predominantly Christians--who operate the underground railroad that ferries North Korean refugees out of China to South Korea, and now, thanks to 2004 legislation, to the U.S.

Mr. Buck, an American from Seattle, says he has rescued more than 100 refugees and helped support another 1,000 who are still on the run. For this "crime"--China's policy is to hunt down and repatriate North Koreans--he spent 15 months in a Chinese prison. He was released in August.

[Excerpt of an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal]

Thursday, December 21, 2006

North Korea may be heading back to famine: aid worker

Reports from fleeing North Koreans of food shortages and the suspension of international aid after the country's nuclear test suggest the communist state may be slipping into famine, an aid worker said.

The comments by head of the charity Helping Hands Korea, Tim Peters, add to another recent report that North Korea could be heading back to the starvation it faced during the 1990s, triggering a mass exodus of refugees. "It's an extreme possibility we may see....(a return) to famine," Peters told reporters. "I hope it won't happen but the world needs to be aware it could take place."

Analysts say North Korea cannot produce enough food for itself even in the best crop years and that much of the food is diverted to the military. Summer storms are thought to have badly damaged crops in key grain areas.

Peters, a Seoul-based Christian pastor whose charity has wide contact with North Korean refugees, said increasingly sophisticated monitoring on the Chinese side of the border suggested Beijing was readying for a large-scale influx of North Koreans. Nearly all those who flee North Korea -- the numbers range from tens to hundreds of thousands -- do so to neighboring China. They either stay or seek refuge elsewhere in Asia.

Peters added there were indications China was slowing down its repatriations of refugees, but said it was unclear whether this was punishment for the nuclear test or a longer-term trend. The ICG report estimated China sends back between 150 and 300 North Koreans a week.

He quoted reports from refugees as saying that even in the capital Pyongyang rations had been reduced to just a third and in the north-east of the country -- near China and where many of the refugees come from -- the level was a third of that. "It seems like everybody is hungry and that includes the border patrol," he said.

[Washington Post, Reuters]

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

North Koreans in China seeking asylum

Conditions in North Korea have created a verifiable flood of refugees, who cross by the thousands into China, attempting to escape persecution and near-famine conditions caused by economic mismanagement.

Washington estimates there are between 20,000 and 30,000 North Koreans in China trying to make their way to asylum in a third country, mostly in South Korea. Private aid groups put the estimate much higher, at 100 to 150,000.

Tim Peters, a Christian activist here in Seoul, says the highest estimate may come from Beijing itself. "We have good reason to believe from Chinese government sources that the Chinese themselves put the number at 400,000," he said.

Peters, who heads the North Korean refugee assistance group Helping Hands Korea, has an extensive network of contacts with Christian activists in China and Southeast Asia. The informal network is widely referred to as the "Underground Railroad" - an analogy with activists who helped slaves escape in the 19th century United States.

Peters says the Chinese have taken steps indicating they expect the flow of North Korean refugees to increase. In addition to building barbed wire fences at key border crossing areas, he says China is investing in high-tech surveillance. "Not only cameras, state-of-the-art cameras, but now also motion sensors have been added to the cameras. There seems to be a centralized control for the cameras," he explained.

Under a treaty with Pyongyang, China is obliged to repatriate North Koreans, who often face harsh punishment for leaving without permission. However, Peters says there are signs Beijing may be sending fewer North Koreans home since the recent North Korean nuclear test. "Since the nuclear test there seems to be some indication that the Chinese have slowed down repatriation," noted Peters.

[Voice of America News]

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

North Korea and the Berlin Wall

It won't be on the agenda of the six-party talks, which are scheduled to restart this week in Beijing. The plight of the tens of thousands of North Korean refugees in China is a humanitarian crisis that has received scant world attention.

But the experience of Pastor Buck and other rescuers is worth noting as negotiators sit down with Kim Jong Il's emissaries. North Korea won't change, they believe, so long as Kim remains in power. Follow that logic, and regime change is the proper goal.

The refugees, Pastor Buck argues, are the key to regime change in North Korea and, by inference, the key to halting the North's nuclear and missile programs.

Help one man or woman escape, he says, and that person will get word to his family back home about the freedom that awaits them on the outside. Others will follow, and the regime will implode.

This is what happened in 1989, when Hungary refused to turn back East Germans fleeing to the West, thereby hastening the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

[Excerpt of an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal]

Monday, December 18, 2006

US Ready to Aid North Korea if it Ends Nuke Program

The United States has indicated it is ready to match good-faith North Korean actions in the six-party negotiations aimed at ending that country's nuclear program.

The New York Times earlier reported that US and North Korean diplomats discussed specifics of a disarmament accord in talks in China.

The newspaper said an agreement would hinge on North Korea agreeing to begin dismantling some equipment it has been using to expand its nuclear arsenal, including a plutonium reprocessing facility refining spent reactor fuel into weapons-grade material.

North Korean Nuclear Talks Begin

International talks on North Korea's nuclear program convened Monday for the first time in 13 months following a boycott by the communist nation during which it tested an atomic device for the first time.

Head delegates held preliminary meetings in Beijing on Monday morning before Chinese envoy Wu Dawei officially opened the talks at a Chinese state guesthouse, calling on envoys to discuss implementation of a September 2005 statement from the talks and outline initial steps to be taken by the sides.

In that agreement -- the only ever reached at the talks -- the North pledged to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Park Kyong-ja, 70-year-old North Korean grandmother

Park Kyong-ja [a 70-year-old North Korean grandmother] said many pregnant prisoners lost their babies because guards kicked and beat them around the abdomen.

She gave a precise description of the prison and said she could identify its deputy director, a lieutenant-colonel of police aged about 60, who exercised day-to-day authority. Her explanation was the same as in other such accounts. The regime is obsessed by racial purity, and so it exterminates children feared to be of Chinese blood.

Death comes in many guises for the returnees, as an elegant woman of 50 from Pyongyang, who asked to be named as Kim Hae-soon, explained. She escaped to Seoul in 2003. “My brother led a group of 16 escapers who were caught on the border with Mongolia and sent back in 2004,” she said. “After torture they singled him out as a political offender. The others were sent to camps but he was kept for interrogation.”

The family had influence. Last summer Kim found out that a senior North Korean official they knew was visiting China. She flew to Beijing on her South Korean passport, met the man and handed over $10,000 (£5,050) with a plea for help.

“The only result was that a few weeks later I got a curt message notifying me that my brother died in custody on April 28 this year and warning me not to inquire any further.”

Her sister-in-law and two nieces fled after hearing the news. They have just made it across the Tumen River. Rescuers are now trying to find them somewhere in northeast China.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Saturday, December 16, 2006

70-year-old North Korean grandmother testifies

North Korea has been condemned as one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. Yet China denies its obligations under the 1951 refugee convention, calling the fugitives “illegal immigrants”. It refuses to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees any access to these border areas. But it is possible to get at the truth by following the escapers to freedom.

The South Korean airliner could make the journey from Yanji to Seoul in 60 minutes but instead it flies a great loop around North Korean airspace to land after three hours in the air.

No refugee could hope to pass the Soviet-style security checks to get on the flight; on the divided Korean peninsula it seems that history has stood still since the end of the war here in 1953. Even in Seoul, I was to find, the survivors of Kim Jong-il’s utopia cannot escape his clammy grasp.

Take the 70-year-old grandmother who sat opposite me in a cellar cafe near the British embassy. She asked to be called Park Kyong-ja. She had eight children and some of her family were still in North Korea. But she had escaped, twice.

“We were caught the first time and sent back from China,” she said. “I was stripped naked. They made me squat in case I was hiding anything in my body. I was beaten, of course. Then I was kept for a year in a prison in the Naman district of Chongjin city, North Hamgyong province.
[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Friday, December 15, 2006

More from 70-year-old North Korean grandmother

“My cellmate was pregnant. I am a simple person but she was an educated lady of 35, on the staff of the United Enterprise Company, from the Songpyong district of Kimchaek city. She had been sent back from China, like me.

“About 3am, she gave birth to a girl. Well, the guard came along and shouted at her that she knew she must kill the baby. He said he’d beat her if she didn’t.

“The baby lay crying. It was still attached to her by the umbilical cord. She tried to will herself to harm it but her hands were shaking so much she could not. The guard came back and screamed at her, ‘Why haven’t you killed it?’

“Well, we sat there for almost three hours like that. Then at six, the guard came back again and told her, look, either you kill the baby or we will, and then we’ll beat you up and you’ll never get out of here.

“So, while I watched, the mother leant down and bit through the umbilical cord. Deliberately, she did not tie the cord connected to the baby. A lot of blood flowed out. The infant died almost immediately.”

There was a silence around the table, where five of us sat. Nobody quite trusted themselves to speak. The grandmother’s homespun features crinkled up.

“What I’ve told you is what I saw with my own eyes,” she said.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Nuclear and Humanitarian Axis of Evil

The world imposed sanctions after North Korea tested a nuclear weapon on October 9. International food supplies to the regime have already been cut back.

In the suffering northern provinces of North Korea, the spectre of famine once again haunts the land. Recent clandestine videos show Kim Jon-il’s firing squads shooting people found guilty of organising escapes.

The Tumen River [dividing China from North Korea] will freeze solid. And then thousands more North Koreans will dare to trudge across in the dark.

North Korea is the world’s only hereditary communist dictatorship It controls food supply to 20m citizens. The hungry flee to China.

Refugees sent back face prison, torture and, in some cases, execution. Forced abortions and racially motivated baby killings in prison are well documented. Political prisoners are kept in gulags. Escapers tell of gas experiments on prisoners and forced labour on nuclear and chemical sites

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

North Korean Defectors looking for work

Even back in North Korea, Hong Tae-myong wanted to be a driver, but simply getting a license after defecting to South Korea wasn't enough to get a job. He also had to lie about where he came from.

"That's how I got a job here so far. I learned this after dozens of rejections in job interviews," the 30-year-old said while filling out his resume at a government-sponsored job fair for defectors.
"When I identified myself as a North Korean defector, they would not hire me," he said.

Hong was among about 500 hopefuls at the fair, part of government efforts aimed at helping defectors overcome the widespread prejudice they face in their new home.

When the two Koreas were locked in intense Cold War rivalry, North Korean defectors received heroes' welcomes in the South and were given houses, jobs and other financial assistance. But with the number of defectors growing rapidly in recent years, the new arrivals are increasingly considered a social problem.

More than 9,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, with about 7,000 of them coming to the South since 2002. The total number of defectors is expected to top the 10,000 mark early next year, according to the Unification Ministry.

Many defectors are believed to be living below the poverty line because they can't get decent jobs due mainly to a lack of education and widespread prejudice among South Koreans, who view those from the socialist system as lazy.

Hong complains that South Koreans look down on North Koreans. "Even if I have the same ability as a South Korean, I'm considered inferior,'' he said.

[Taipei Times]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Phillip Buck, 68-year-old Korean-American pastor

To grasp the courage of those who dare to act [on behalf of North Korean refugees], we went to meet Phillip Buck, a frail Korean-American pastor of 68, who helped to smuggle more than 1,000 people out of China.

His luck ran out on May 6, 2005, when he was caught by six Chinese plainclothes men as he left a rendezvous with clergy from America at a restaurant in Yanji.

“They had three notebooks full of stuff on me, they’d traced all the cellphone numbers, they told me they’d been after me for five years,” he said. “I guess somebody had talked.”

He survived 457 days in a cell with murderers and drug dealers, enduring repeated interrogations until 4am, eating cornmeal and washing in cold water.

Only Buck’s American passport and 13 visits by diplomats from the US consulate in Shenyang saved him.

Eventually the Chinese abandoned a shambolic attempt to prosecute him for “people smuggling” and he was put on a plane to Los Angeles on August 21 this year.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Reference to Pastor Buck in Congressional Testimony

Monday, December 11, 2006

Operative Nam Hong-chul of the North Korean Underground Railroad

He came out of the darkening snow flurries to our rendezvous near a pagoda set in a frozen ornamental pond, a man who was both saviour and fugitive. Nam Hong-chul, as he called himself, had slipped in to the far northeast Chinese city of Yanji to rescue 11 refugees from North Korea.

Now he had to make a plan. Armed with money, documents, warm clothes and maps, he was trying to save others who, like him, had risked everything to escape starvation and violence under the regime of Kim Jong-il.

“Four of them are living with the pigs,” said Nam, as we made our way to a dingy hotel room to talk. “One of them is going insane. And they are not the worst off. There are others surviving in burrows dug in the ground. “They have crawled through the fields, then waded across the river or walked over the ice when it freezes,” Nam added. “They are desperate.”

Nam is a courier on the “underground railroad” that helps a lucky few North Koreans to sanctuary in Thailand or Mongolia, where they can seek asylum in South Korea.

He muffles his face and hides in the back of a car. Every Chinese checkpoint is a challenge. North Korean agents are out to kill him. Chinese-Korean gangsters hate him for rescuing women doomed to sexual slavery.

Nam made his own escape after his wife and younger son perished in a famine in 1998, only to lose his beloved first son, not yet in his teens, who died on the journey.

A simple man, he found that the Christian faith consoled him in his sorrow. It fired him with zeal to help others in memory of his own boy, who tried to reach freedom but never made it. “Helping other people makes it easier to deal with my grief for my son,” he explained. “I try to get the orphans out first. You will understand why.”

His group has established a secret orphanage, where they give food, shelter and a rudimentary education to a group of lost children.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Friday, December 08, 2006

US to aid North Korea if it ends nuke program?

The United States has indicated it is ready to match good-faith North Korean actions in the six-party negotiations aimed at ending that country's nuclear program.

The New York Times earlier reported that US and North Korean diplomats discussed specifics of a disarmament accord in talks in China last week.

The newspaper said an agreement would hinge on North Korea agreeing to begin dismantling some equipment it has been using to expand its nuclear arsenal, including a plutonium reprocessing facility refining spent reactor fuel into weapons-grade material.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Insight into the North Korean Underground Railroad, part 1

Thousands of North Koreans are hiding on farms and in towns all over China’s three Manchurian provinces of Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang, which are divided from North Korea by the Tumen and Yalu rivers.

The men labor on the land in exchange for food or a little cash, but risk betrayal. Even taxi drivers have been known to turn in refugees for a £20 bounty.

The danger is multiplied for women, who are routinely kidnapped, raped and sold into sexual slavery, for China’s one-child policy has sown a dire shortage of girls up in these lonely wastes.

“I interview them,” said [North Korean Underground Railroad activist] Nam, “I must decide who will be strong enough mentally and physically to make it. And I also have to pick ones who will be able to adapt to life in South Korea, which isn’t easy.”

They are groomed, coached in rudimentary Chinese, and in some cases given new identities as South Korean “tourists”.

Then Nam must shepherd them, with their new documents and clothes, past policemen at a railway station or bus terminal.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]


Tim Peters and the North Korean Underground Railroad

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

The hope [of many North Korean refugees in China] is a quiet American missionary called Tim Peters. He is the man who runs what Christians call the “Seoul Train” and it was his emissary I had met in Yanji.

Peters founded Helping Hands Korea, a charity that started out by sending food aid to the north and has graduated to a full-time escape organization. His web of Korean helpers extends across Asia. It is a rare week when one of them is not flying off with bundles of cash and documents.

Peters lobbies diplomats, uses charm and moral pressure on bureaucrats and has testified with fine biblical indignation to the US Congress.

“It’s unconscionable to sit here and do nothing,” he said. “What does the Bible teach us if not that?” Peters, 56, is married to a South Korean and has five children and two grandchildren of his own, a happy life that makes the reports of infanticide all the harder for him to comprehend.

“This is one of the few populations in the world that has been hermetically sealed from the Gospel” is all he can say.

For more on Tim Peters

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Phoenix Weekly on North Korean refugees

The cover story of the current issue of Phoenix Weekly is a feature about North Korean refugees who leave North Korea for China or a third country.

The article highlights the fact that these people are termed "defectors" by South Korea, and "illegal enterers" by China. Three to four hundred thousand North Koreans have entered China illegally since 1983.

The article explains that after leaving North Korea, their goal is to get to Mongolia or South Korea, crossing Chinese territory. If they are found by Chinese police or the North Korean army, they are sent back to North Korea and put into prison. Nonetheless, many of them try to escape again after they are released.

Monday, December 04, 2006

China reaching $1 trillion in global clout

To an increasing degree, bureaucrats in Beijing aren't just guiding their own economy, but the world's as well. In coming days, China's stockpile of foreign currency reserves, the fruits of fast-growing exports, will reach the unprecedented sum of $1 trillion. What's important isn't the level—a nation's foreign reserves are rarely big news—it's what it represents.

China is growing so fast that it could, less than two decades from now, rival the United States as a key driver of the world economy, economists say.

"If our simulations are anywhere close to the mark, the world has a grace period of about five years before it really begins to feel the heat of China's emergence," Stephen Roach, global economist at the investment bank Morgan Stanley in New York, wrote in a report earlier this year. "How the world then copes with China may well be the biggest what-if of all."

Already, China is the focal point in a worldwide debate about the virtues of the headlong pace of globalization. Workers in many nations have lost manufacturing jobs to lower-cost laborers in provinces near Shanghai and Hong Kong.

[Excerpt of an article by Mark Trumbull, The Christian Science Monitor]

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Anti-Americanism in South Korea

An excerpt of an article by Cindy Sheehan, peace activist and mother of Casey Sheehan who was KIA in Iraq (Written in Daechuri, near Pyong-taek City, South Korea.)

Miles before our bus reached the village on the evening of November 20th, we were stopped by approximately 200 South Korean riot police, who were decked out in their full riot regalia with bullet-proof shields. We were traveling with Father Moon, an elderly Buddhist priest who has been an advocate for the villagers for a few years now.

Finally, in what the villagers said was an unprecedented move, they allowed us entry into the village (after we passed another heavily guarded checkpoint). Visitors are rarely allowed to go in. Why? Because the village of Daechuri is under siege, and the governments [involved: South Korea and the United States of America] don't want the world to see.

The village of Daechuri has the unmitigated gall to be located next to a US military base, Camp Humphreys, which is slated for an eleven-billion dollar expansion that would include a golf course for the use of soldiers stationed there. The only problem is that the village of Daechuri and their thousands of acres of farmland, mostly rice paddies, are in the way of the juggernaut of US military expansion.

The people of Daechuri have been cut off from their farmlands by razor wire, guard towers, and armed foot patrols.

I took a straw poll of about 400 South Koreans, and 100% of them said that George Bush is far more frightening than Kim Jong-Il.

You can bet your turkey leftovers that North Korea is watching these developments very closely.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

US seeks to take gadgets away from Kim Jong Il

The Bush administration wants North Korea's attention, so like a scolding parent, it's trying to make it tougher for that country's eccentric leader to buy iPods, plasma televisions and Segway electric scooters.

The list of proposed luxury sanctions, obtained by The Associated Press, aims to make Kim's swanky life harder: No more cognac, Rolex watches, cigarettes, artwork, expensive cars, Harley Davidson motorcycles or even personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis.

The new ban would extend even to music and sports equipment. The 5-foot-3 Kim is an enthusiastic basketball fan; then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented him with a ball signed by Michael Jordan during a rare diplomatic trip in 2000.

The U.S. government's first-ever effort to use trade sanctions to personally aggravate a foreign president expressly targets items believed to be favored by Kim Jong Il or presented by him as gifts to the roughly 600 loyalist families who run his communist nation.

Experts said the effort, being coordinated under the United Nations, would be the first ever to curtail a specific category of goods not associated with military buildups or weapons designs. U.S. officials acknowledge that enforcing the ban on black-market trading would be difficult.

Much of the U.S. information about Kim's preferences comes from defectors, including Kenji Fujimoto, the Japanese chef who fled in 2001 and wrote a book about his time with the North Korean leader.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Slow Starvation in North Korea

North Korean refugees are a result of a bankrupt country, a sinister society: they talk of hospitals without heat, of ghost cities without electricity where "we cannot even see if someone is dying next to us," and where water is contaminated, of girls who sell themselves to Chinese women traders and end up in brothels.

The most desperate eat tree bark, leaves and grass, which are hard to digest and cause intestinal problems and internal hemorrhage.

With broken words and mimicking punches, a North Korean child tells us that young prisoners are beaten. "The strongest steal from the others" he says.

These testimonies confirm the bleak picture drawn by German Doctor Norbert Vollertsen, a member of the organization Cap Anamur, who was deported from the DPRK in December 2000 for denouncing the daily violations of human rights.

They also confirm suspicions that a portion of the foreign food aid does not make its way to the segments of population most threatened. In the course of the past two years, some humanitarian organizations (Doctors without Borders and Action Contre la Faim, among others) left the DPRK because they estimated that they could not control the aid that they were contributing.

According to Dr. Vollertsen, the scenes he has seen in the hospitals (including surgery without anesthesia) convinced him that "foreign aid is not used to save the lives that it should."

[Excerpt of an article by Philippe Pons, Le Monde]

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Babies killed by North Korean super race

Choi Yong-hwa, 28, described how she was made to accompany a heavily pregnant woman, who had been returned to North Korea across the bridge from China, to a clinic where doctors induced labor. After the infant was born, Ms Choi said she and other women stood by in disbelief as it was suffocated with a wet towel. The mother passed out.

A 66-year-old grandmother also testified to witnessing the deaths of babies at Sinuiju, two of them healthy boys born at full term. The first belonged to a 28-year-old woman called Lim. The witness was holding the newborn in a blanket when a guard grabbed him by a leg and threw him into a large box lined with plastic.

A total of seven babies - five born prematurely after labour was induced - were left to die in the box. Two days later the premature babies were dead. The two full-term boys were still blinking, although their lips had turned blue. A guard battered them to death with forceps, the witness said.

At the Nongpo centre in Chongjin, witnesses saw the so-called "children of betrayers" tossed into a wicker basket, covered in plastic sheeting and left to die.

One woman watched the killing of seven babies, taken from their mothers and left face-down on the ground within their view. After two days the guards smothered any that were still alive. "Guards would say the mothers had to see and hear their babies die because they were Chinese," the report said.

[Agence France-Presse]

Monday, November 27, 2006

North Korean regime's obsession with racial purity

The North Korean regime's obsession with racial purity has led to the killing of disabled infants and forced abortions for women suspected of conceiving their babies by Chinese fathers, according to a growing body of testimony from defectors.

This was first detailed in a 2003 report for the US Committee of Human Rights in North Korea, compiled by David Hawk, a human rights investigator. Mr. Hawk found "extreme phenomena of repression ... unique to North Korea" and concluded that its regime practised "ethnic infanticide".

He traced eight female witnesses who gave distressing accounts of child murder.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

North Korea "Democracy" Judged Lowest in world

In “The World in 2007”, the British weekly magazine, The Economist, analyzed the level of democracy in 167 countries with the five categories; electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties, maximum of 10 points per each category.

The Economist based on its analysis, classified the countries into four stages of democracy; full democracy, 28 countries; flawed democracy, 54; hybrid democracy, 30; and authoritarian regime, 55.

Although the recent wave of worldwide democratization, only 13% of the world population is considered to be living in ‘full democracy,’ whereas 40% of them are still under authoritarian regime.

North Korea received an average score of 1.03 out of 10, and the 167th out of 167 in the ranking.

Not surprisingly, North Korea received no point at all in civil liberties category.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

False image created by the North Korean capitol, Pyongyang

People who have visited Pyongyang for sightseeing report that they saw no signs of a bad food situation. Sightseers to Pyongyang will find lots of food, beer and other beverages, fruits, and candies.

Without a special permit specifically indicating the necessity for a visit, ordinary citizens of North Korea are prohibited from access to Pyongyang. And they long ago expelled every physically handicapped person from Pyongyang.

We would be quite happy if the starvation were simply a vicious rumor spread by anti-communists, and if the people in North Korea were really living in comfort.

Unfortunately, however, the truth is different. The food shortage worsened after 1990, and especially so after 1994. Rations were completely stopped [in most of the country]. Workers do not go to work. Children do not go to school; instead, they go to the hills in their neighborhoods and try to fill their stomachs with grass.

Murders and the sale of human flesh in markets were no longer uncommon.

Drowned bodies of people who had starved to death have been found floating in the rivers at the border - bodies so swollen from being in the water that their clothes had split. I directly heard the following story in China from one of the priests who care for [North Korean] orphans. Dead bodies become caught in the reeds and grass along the riverbank on the Chinese side, where they gave off a foul smell. The priests cannot stand the stench, and in one month alone they had to dig fifteen graves along the riverside to bury the decomposed bodies of starved victims.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A tale of one North Korean family

Seated between the legs of her mother, the little girl turns the pages of a magazine with the unskilled hands of a four year-old. She counts them aloud, and, at the end, she takes the magazine and holds it tight against her, lifting her head smiling. Then her empty eyes appear: she is blind.

At first we can only see the top of the head a nearby teenager, then a little more: he is sitting on a mat, shoulders sunk, knees under the chin. Then the camera shows his feet: he has no toes. They froze while spending some time in jail. He is 15.

The blind girl arrived in China with her mother and brother to meet their father from whom they had been separated [for 3 years. The father] came to China for the first time to seek help from humanitarian organizations, the mother had to sell everything the family owned and was left to scavenge for food with her infant daughter. "We ate like beggars: herbs, roots, but then we felt nauseous and had diarrhea," she told us. Malnourished, she was never able to lactate, and the little girl, fed boiled corn, became blind when she was 8 months old.

Her brother, along with their father, was captured, tied up and repatriated to the DPRK. The teenager was detained in a camp in Onsong, a mining town near the border. It was winter (temperatures hovered around -10 to -15° C and the camp had no heating), and he did not have shoes; after a few days his toes froze.

The images of these two North Korean children are part of some five hours of recorded video testimony of hunger migrants, collected on the Chinese side of the Sino-Korean border by a humanitarian organization that we shall not identify for security reasons. The thirty or so interviews, of which more than half come from refugees that have crossed the Tumen river (demarcating the border) since the beginning of this year, reveal aspects of life under the rule of the last Stalinist regime on the planet.

[Excerpt of an article by Philippe Pons, Le Monde]

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

North Korean Sanctions: A Cruel Mirage

U.S. leaders are congratulating themselves for convincing China and Russia to go along on a UN Security Council resolution imposing economic sanctions on North Korea.

Even when sanctions are imposed on a comprehensive multilateral basis, they have a mixed record at best. North Korea is an unpromising candidate for a successful campaign of economic coercion because it is already economically isolated, and it is hard to see how additional pressure is likely to succeed where it has failed in the past.

Kim Jong-Il's government is a vampire regime. It will suck whatever resources it needs from the North Korean people to pursue its objectives. Although Kim must ultimately be held responsible for the policies of his government, and while his wanton disregard for the well-being of his people is extreme even among dictators, it is typical of economic sanctions that they hurt the most vulnerable members of society.

Indeed, this fatally undermines the effectiveness of sanctions. On the one hand, they are intended to inflict pain and suffering on a target population to the point where the target country capitulates to the demands of the sanctioning powers. On the other hand, the sanctioning powers are troubled by the moral implications of their policies, and they employ other measures for getting food and needed supplies to the neediest people.

Malnutrition and famine are already pervasive. The government-run system for distributing food provides, on average, 250 grams per person per day – 40 percent of the minimum calorie intake recommended by international food aid experts. The UN's World Food Program reports that a survey taken in October 2004 "found 37 percent of young children to be chronically malnourished, and one-third of mothers both malnourished and anemic."

Neither China nor South Korea is willing to support broad-based sanctions. The Chinese and the South Koreans also worry about a collapse of the North Korean state, which would unleash hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees across their borders.

[Excerpt of a commentary by Christopher Preble and Ted Galen Carpenter in the Houston Chronicle]

Monday, November 20, 2006

North Korean Camp larger than Auschwitz or Dachau

An MI6 file describes Camp 22 as "larger than Auschwitz or Dachau."

"Hundreds of prisoners die there each week, the victims of biological or chemical experiments to test out [chemical and biological] weapons for North Korea's CBW arsenal," claims an MI6 report.

In one intelligence file is the allegation that newborn babies are taken from their mothers and injected with biological agents or given injections of chemicals that blister the skin, leaving huge keloids, the sores seen on the bodies of Hiroshima victims.

One woman, Lee Sun-Ko, who escaped from North Korea, eventually ended up in America. She told her CIA debriefing officer about Camp 22's experimental laboratories, adding they are buried underground to avoid aerial reconnaissance and bombing.

Lee Sun-Ko's affidavit states: "I watched guards select 150 prisoners, mostly women. Some had just given birth. Their babies were ripped from them. Some of the babies were laid face down on the ground and a guard injected them at the top of the spine. Other guards carried the babies away. When the mothers screamed and protested, they were severely beaten."

David Hawk, a former United Nations official who was involved in monitoring Camp 22, said that while reports of baby-killing are often hard to prove, in the cases he has investigated the evidence is plausible.

"I spoke to eight refugees who had first-hand evidence. Their stories tallied," said Hawk.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

North Korean Killing Compound

They call it "the Killing Compound", an area within Camp 22 in North Korea's largest concentration camp.

Most North Koreans are imprisoned simply because their relatives are believed to be critical of the regime. Many are Christians, a religion believed by Kim Jong-il to be one of the greatest threats to his power. According to the dictator, not only is a suspected dissident arrested but also three generations of his family are imprisoned, to root out the bad blood and seed of dissent.
Thousands of men, women and children are trucked to the nearby town of Haengyong. There they wait and the North Korean physicians single out those who will die in gas chambers, or in biological tests, or face death in the human dissection rooms.

Those not selected to immediately go to the Killing Compound will be kept in other compounds, surviving on minimum rations, to replace those who have died from inhuman experiments.

They are all branded as enemies of the state, "political victims" who have dared to speak out against President Kim Jong Il, the "Dear Leader" of North Korea. Their "offenses" may have been as little as to have allowed a portrait of Kim to get dusty – every home must display one. Or not having given the mandatory bow when passing his thousands of posters that line every street.

Kang Chol Hwan's North Korea Story

Kang Chol Hwan, a former child prisoner at Yoduk Prison in North Korea, currently works as a newspaper reporter for Chosun Daily in Seoul. Below are excerpt of his account:

I became a prisoner in August '77. I was 10 years old at the time. My younger brother was 7. The reason why we were imprisoned was my grandfather and grandmother were residents in Japan. My grandfather was purged politically and disappeared. And because of my grandfather, all the family members were forced to go to the prisoners camp.

In North Korea, the prisoners camps are divided into two parts, economic prisoners camp and political prisoners camp. Also they are divided into two types. One is camps, the other is prison. The prisoners with light crimes are in the camps. And prison is for the serious criminals. Hundred of thousands of people do forced labor just like previous camps in Russia.

When I was 10 years old, we were put to work digging clay and constructing a building. And there were dozens of kids, and while digging the ground, it collapsed, and they died. They buried the kids secretly, without notifying their parents, even though the parents came. It was the first atrocity I witnessed.

Most people died because of malnutrition. I saw such cases many times, malnutrition. It was really a miserable scene. And once I saw a public execution by rifle.

The most unforgettable image I have is when one of my close friend's sisters died in the wintertime. In burying her, we couldn't dig the ground very deeply, because it was frozen. When spring came, the ground thawed, and the dead body floated up. I cannot forget that miserable scene.

[Excerpt of an article by Antony Barnett, The Observer]

Monday, November 13, 2006

Human guinea pigs in North Korean gulag

Soon Ok-lee was imprisoned in North Korea for seven years. 'An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners,' she said. 'One of the guards handed me a basket full of soaked cabbage, told me not to eat it but to give it to the 50 women.

I gave the cabbages out and heard a scream from those who had eaten them. They were all screaming and vomiting blood. All who ate the cabbage leaves started violently vomiting blood and screaming with pain. It was hell. In less than 20 minutes they were quite dead.'

Defectors have smuggled out documents that appear to reveal how methodical such chemical experiments were. One stamped 'top secret' and 'transfer letter' is dated February 2002. The name of the victim was Lin Hun-hwa. He was 39. The text reads: 'The above person is transferred from ... camp number 22 for the purpose of human experimentation of liquid gas for chemical weapons.'

[Excerpt of an article by Antony Barnett, The Observer]

Gas chamber horror of North Korea's gulag

A series of shocking personal testimonies sheds light on Camp 22 - one of North Korea’s horrific secrets. Among them:

Witnesses have described watching entire families being put in glass chambers and gassed. They are left to an agonising death while scientists take experimental notes.

Kwon Hyuk, who has changed his name, was the former military attaché at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. He was also the chief of management at Camp 22. Hyuk claims he now wants the world to know what is happening.

'I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber,' he said. 'The parents, son and and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.'

Hyuk has drawn detailed diagrams of the gas chamber he saw. He said: 'The glass chamber is sealed airtight. It is 3.5 metres wide, 3m long and 2.2m high_ [There] is the injection tube going through the unit. Normally, a family sticks together and individual prisoners stand separately around the corners. Scientists observe the entire process from above, through the glass.'

[Excerpt of an article by Antony Barnett, The Observer]

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rats the only source of meat

Chol Hwan Kang, in his memoir "Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag" recollects:

"As prisoners eat rats in the camp, rats were almost depleted and became harder to find. The surviving rats are wary.

“Rat is the only source of meat for prisoners for 10 or 20 years.

“Rat tastes strange and somehow unpleasant at first. The revolting taste, however, soon disappears.

“The children never miss the opportunity to catch rats, as they watch so many other prisoners dying of undernourishment.”

Friday, November 10, 2006

North Korean concentration camps

At least two North Korean concentration camps, Hoeryong and Hwasong in Hamkyong Province, are larger in area than the District of Columbia. All the gulags are located in remote and desolate mountain areas to further their anonymity. Presently, there are six gulags known to the outside world where it is speculated that some 150,000 to 200,000 inmates are imprisoned.

The most striking feature of the gulag system is the philosophy of "guilt by familial association" or "collective responsibility" whereby whole families within three generations are imprisoned. This policy has been practiced since 1972 when Kim Il Sung, the founder of communist North Korea, stated, "Factionalists or enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations."

Another characteristic of this oppressive policy is that those arrested are not detained, charged or tried in any sort of judicial procedure. The victim, along with his immediate family, is shipped off in the early hours of the morning to an interrogation facility. He is only permitted to bring the clothes on his back. The presumed offender is then tortured in order to make him "confess" before being sent to the political penal-labor colony.

On arrival at the camp, the victim is issued a pick and shovel, simple cooking utensils and a used army blanket. All contact with the outside world is blocked: he is now a non-person.

Prisoners are provided just enough food to be kept perpetually on the verge of starvation. They are compelled by their hunger to eat, if they can get away with it, the food of the labor-camp farm animals, as well as plants, grasses, bark, rats, snakes and anything remotely edible. In committing such desperate acts driven by acute hunger the prisoners simultaneously incur the extreme risk of being detected by an angry security guard and subjected to a brutal, on-the-spot execution.

Not surprisingly, the prisoners are quickly reduced to walking skeletons. The descriptions parallel those provided by survivors of the Holocaust in infamous camps like Auschwitz.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Senseless Killing in North Korea

The job of fifty-three-year-old Chul-min Kim, was to drive trolleys that transported coal within "the complete control zone" of camp 14 in Kaechon of Southern Pyong-an province.

One day, he saw some chestnuts roll down the mountain slope and stop in front of his trolley. Chul-min stopped on the tracks to pick up the chestnuts.

A nearby security guard spotted Chul-min as he began to gather the nuts.

Upon reaching Chul-min, the guard started kicking him and became increasingly violent. His anger mounting, soon the hard soles of his boots were laying heavy blows to poor Chul-min's head.

Finally, the guard drew a pistol from a pocket in his uniform, held down Chul-min's head with one foot and blew a hole in the forehead of the horrified victim.

Chul Hwan Kang’s Yoduk Story

Chul Hwan Kang arrived in South Korea in 1992, having survived detention in living hell. He served in the labor camp for political prisoners called "Yoduk" from the age of 9 to 19 for the sole reason that his grandfather was accused of criticizing the North Korean regime.

Kang recounts his experience as a young person in the camps stating that children would spend the day beginning at 6 o'clock in the morning working hard manual labor. The failure to accomplish the work quota may result in reduced food rations.

At age 17, he was less than 150 centimeters tall (5 feet) and weighed about 40 kilograms (88 pounds). In fact, Kang's size was characteristic of all detained children, whose growth was universally retarded by continuous malnutrition and brutality.

Girls were no taller than 145 centimeters by their late teens. With unkempt hair and lacking the nutrition critical to adolescent development, they did not look like girls, forced to become part of an androgynous and anonymous prison population.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

North Korean Storms Leave Many Homeless

Heavy weather that battered North Korea’s eastern coast left more than 7,300 people homeless, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said, but no deaths were reported due to a successfully functioning early warning system.

Only 14 people were reported injured because an early warning system was activated two days ahead of the heavy weather and people had evacuated their homes, the Red Cross said.

Rebuilding and repairs have already begun in the storm area, said Jaap Timmer, head of the International Red Cross in the North.

'The national Red Cross society is getting more and more effective for this type of activity,' he told The Associated Press from Pyongyang. 'This can be handled by themselves.'


Monday, November 06, 2006

Atrocities in North Korean labor camps

Grandsons are condemned to life-long terms as slave laborers alongside their grandfathers, both equally helpless in the brutal surroundings. Prisoners are arbitrarily murdered by security guards. Women suffer from forced abortions at the hands of unlicensed doctors. Newborn babies are beaten to death. And sons and daughters are publicly executed in front of their mothers.

This is not the story of an age of slavery from centuries past, or of a survivor of Nazi Germany's Holocaust. It is what is happening at this moment inside the gulags of North Korea.

The stories of gulag survivors are often too horrible to believe for the citizens of civilized countries. If one were to have the opportunity to speak with a survivor of a North Korean gulag, what they would reveal might be well beyond the threshold of the listener's imagination.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ex-Diplomat Faults U.S. Policy on North Korea

A former State Department official who maintains contact with North Korea said U.S. dealings with that country have been hampered by missteps and lack of a coherent policy. 'You can't get anywhere without a clear roadmap, and we don't have one,' said Kenneth Quinones, who served as State Department liaison with North Korea's U.N. mission between 2004 and 2006.

He said a promising effort last year to resume six-party nuclear disarmament talks fell by the wayside when President Bush referred to North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Il as a 'tyrant.' The North Koreans told U.S. officials, 'We're not coming back until the president stops the criticism.'

Weeks later, he said, there was fresh progress toward a new round, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld soured the atmosphere when he announced stealth fighter planes were being sent to South Korea.

Talks were finally resumed in Beijing in September 2005, and the session ended with a breakthrough communique that included broad agreement on a number of issues, including a North Korean commitment to dismantle its nuclear weapons. But the good feelings dissipated within 48 hours, Quinones said, when a dispute erupted over whether North Korea should receive light water reactors before carrying out nuclear disarmament.

He said mistrust has permeated the U.S.-North Korean relationship. 'The North Koreans don't want to negotiate with a government they do not comprehend,' he said. 'They found that the rules constantly changed.'

Mistrust 'can be devastating to diplomacy,' he said.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bush 'more of a threat than Kim Jong-Il'

US President George W. Bush is more of a threat to world peace than the leaders of North Korea and Iran, a poll of British voters has found.

A majority of voters in Britain, Canada and Mexico, all key American allies, also thought US foreign policy had made the world less safe since 2001, the survey published in The Guardian showed.

Three-quarters of Britons said Mr Bush presented a great or moderate threat to peace in the world, bested only by Osama bin Laden at 87 per cent.

By contrast, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il was considered a threat to peace by 69 per cent of voters.

As well, 69 per cent of British voters along with 62 per cent of Canadians and 52 per cent of Mexicans, said US policy had made the world less safe.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Turn North Korea Into a Human Rights Issue

Vaclav Havel, Elie Wiesel, and former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik have co-authored a powerful argument for confronting Kim Jong Il’s atrocities against the North Korean people. Excerpts follow:

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the North Korean government is responsible for one of the most egregious human rights and humanitarian disasters in the world today.

North Korea allowed perhaps one million — and possibly many more — of its own citizens to die during the famine in the 1990’s. This was caused in part by the government’s decision to reduce food purchases as international assistance increased so that it could divert resources to its military and nuclear program.

Hunger and starvation remain a persistent problem today, with more than 37 percent of North Korean children chronically malnourished. And yet North Korea has requested less food assistance from the World Food Program and refuses to let the program monitor food distribution in some 42 of 203 counties in the country.

As a result of the cuts in food aid, the program has said that millions of North Koreans will face real hardship this winter and many aid groups have warned of another famine.

For more than a decade, many in the international community have argued that to focus on the suffering of the North Korean people would risk driving the country away from discussions over its nuclear program.

But with his recent actions, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, has shown that this approach neither stopped the development of his nuclear program nor helped North Koreans.

Our report recommends that, as a first step, the Council should adopt a non-punitive resolution urging open access to North Korea for humanitarian relief, the release of political prisoners, access for the special rapporteur and engagement by the United Nations.

We also urge the incoming secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, to make his first official action a briefing of the Security Council on this dire situation.

[Excerpts from New York Times Op-ed]

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Not Over Until the Great Leader Sings

North Korea's surprise decision to return to the suspended six-party talks over its nascent nuclear program may be the first positive glimmer from the Korean peninsula in nearly a year, but any celebration by the U.S. or its allies would be way too premature. The multilateral negotiations have been replete in the past with false starts and dashed hopes. And it's not clear that all six parties — North Korea, South Korea, Russia, China, Japan and the U.S — are on the same page.

Pyongyang had reaffirmed its commitment to a preliminary agreement that had been reached last September, shortly before the talks fizzled when the U.S. cracked down on North Korean bank accounts in the Chinese city of Macau.

The resumption of the talks, however, does represent a diplomatic win for China, which had been forced to take the central role in reining in its wayward ally Pyongyang. It was China's decision to support the U.N. sanctions that gave them teeth, and Chinese envoys made repeated trips to Pyongyang over the last several weeks.

The message was clear: North Korea had embarrassed Beijing by testing a nuclear device despite repeated warnings by the Chinese against doing so. By at least agreeing to return to the six-party talks, Kim is preventing a loss in international face for his status-conscious friends in Beijing.

The real test will be how all six parties react once the talks resume — assuming, of course, the talks really do resume this year.

[Excerpts from TIME Asia]

Burden of North Korean sanctions most felt by common people

U.S. activist Adrian Hong, whose group Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) helps refugees gain asylum in Western countries, said a recent tour of the region left him “very worried at the moment for the people we have in our shelters.”

China has stepped up security on its border with North Korea, a move that may have represented compliance with U.N. sanctions on illicit weapons trade. But Hong said China was also fencing part of the border in a sign it might be trying to “eliminate the refugee problem by stopping refugees entirely.”

“Once those fences go up and this winter gets difficult, more people are going to try to leave,” said Hong, who talked with recent refugees in China last week and said all relayed accounts of hunger and malnutrition.

Marcus Noland, a scholar at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, said low grain output this year due to floods, appears to reflect hoarding by farmers after the state seized crops last year.

“In certain areas, it’s clear the government just sent the army in to take grain,” said Noland. History and the political structure of North Korea suggests the army will pass the pain of sanctions on to the population. “The military is going to get the resources it needs and ultimately the burden of these sanctions is going to be felt by common people,” said Noland.


An overview of US sanctions against North Korea

Since 2002, when relations began to seriously deteriorate, the US has been calling for a much tougher stance by the international community against North Korea.

In 2003, it launched the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) with the aim of interdicting weapons from North Korea, Iran and other countries of concern. Participating countries were called on to search aircraft and ships suspected of carrying weapons-related material.

In September 2005, Washington imposed financial sanctions on North Korea, accusing it of involvement in the laundering of drug money and counterfeit currency. It froze the assets of eight firms it believed to be linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and acted against a bank in Macau accused of helping launder money and of having links with the North Korean leadership.

Following North Korea's July 2006 test launching of seven missiles, the UN Security Council condemned North Korea and called on all members to stop missiles and missile-related technology being transferred to North Korea.

Following North Korea's October 2006 nuclear test, the US pushed for UN condemnation of North Korea, including reference to the UN's Chapter Seven, which could eventually allow for military action.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dear Leader's 11 "holes-in-one"

Reuters suggests that golfers might get a kick just from teeing off in the world's most reclusive state. The trouble is there may not be too many golfers at the picturesque Diamond Country Club golf course in North Korea due to international sanctions that followed Pyongyang's October 9 nuclear test.

Despite the difficulty of reaching the course -- only by bus across one of the world's most heavily defended borders -- it has one great attraction for golf-mad South Koreans: it is cheap.

The price of membership is up to $21,120, a snip compared to a minimum of $250,000 for a standard club membership south of the border. (Membership fees in South Korea can rise to as much as $1 million at exclusive clubs.)

The course will have 19 holes instead of the usual 18. The extra hole -- the 14th -- has been dubbed the "unification" hole, a reference to bringing the two halves of Korea closer since they were divided during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

That hole is designed so that all the golfer need do is knock the ball onto a special "green" and it will automatically tumble in for a guaranteed hole-in-one. No putting required.

But that would still be a long way off the achievement of Kim Jong-il, the "Dear Leader" whose considerable feats -- including on his first round of golf when he reportedly hit 11 holes-in-one -- are frequently cited by North Korea's official media!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

North Korea pledges return to nuclear talks

• Pyongyang says it will return to negotiations on nuclear program

• Six-nation talks on North Korea could resume by year end, U.S. official says

• Bush says he is pleased by N. Korea's decision to resume nuclear talks

• U.S. envoy says Pyongyang has not promised to stop nuclear testing


North Korea and United States re: Press Freedom

Reporters Without Borders has issued its fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index and North Korea has won the distinction of being the worst violator of press freedom (listed at the bottom of the Index at 168th place). Not a surprise.

The United States is at 53rd place, having fallen nine places since last year. And this is after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index (2002).

Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts, which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognize the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

Among them, freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.

“The steady erosion of press freedom in the United States, France and Japan is extremely alarming,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Monday, October 30, 2006

China erects North Korea border fence

China increased security along its border with North Korea by building fences in and near Dandong, Liaoning Province, its largest city on the border. Locals said the fences seem to be to prevent North Koreans from illegally crossing the border into China.

A border guard official in Dandong told Asiaweek, a Hong Kong news magazine, that it was possible at least 500,000 North Korea refugees could flow into Liaoning and Jilin provinces, which border North Korea. The official predicted this could happen if food and daily necessities from China to North Korea are stopped due to closure of the border or other incidents.

According to other sources, about 10,000 residents in Dandong are employed in the trading of goods between China and North Korea. A growing number of government officials also engage in trade with North Korea because its economy has been increasingly reliant on China in recent years.

[Excerpt of an article by Masahiko Takekoshi, Yomiuri Shimbun]

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Open Up China to North Korean Refugees

If China is to assume what it considers to be its rightful place as a great power, now is the moment. The world is looking to Beijing as the only government with a measure of influence over its lunatic nuclear ward in the Hermit Kingdom. The question is, will it use it?

No one is speaking publicly about Beijing's biggest source of influence: the 900-mile border it shares with North Korea. Opening the frontier to refugees would put pressure on Kim Jong Il to give up his nukes or watch his regime implode. As Mark Palmer, U.S. ambassador to Hungary in 1989, has noted, the East German refugees who passed through that country en route to West Germany sped the collapse of the Soviet Union.

If Beijing wants to send a message to Pyongyang about its nuclear program, it could announce that, effective immediately, it is taking several steps: It will stop deporting North Koreans, allow the United Nations to set up refugee camps, and permit the resettlement of refugees in third countries, from which they could go to South Korea, whose constitution codifies its moral responsibility to accept its Northern cousins, or to other countries willing to take them in. The U.S., which so far has accepted a mere eight North Koreans, could step up to the plate here.

Winter is coming, and there are already reports of food shortages [in North Korea]. Allowing the world to help the North Korean refugees in China would help Beijing deal with a problem that is likely to get worse.

[Excerpt of Opinion written by Melanie Kirkpatrick, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page]

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hunger driving North Korean refugees

Hunger is driving increasing numbers of North Koreans to risk their lives fleeing over the border in a humanitarian tragedy overshadowed by the nuclear crisis, a leading think-tank said.

The Brussels-based group the International Crisis Group said the numbers fleeing the Stalinist state were likely to grow amid threats of a new famine, and "humanity demands" a proper global response. It said the "humanitarian challenge ... is playing out almost invisibly as the world focuses on North Korea's nuclear programme."

The ICG said China and South Korea were not putting maximum pressure on the North to scrap its nuclear programme because they feared a torrent of refugees if the economy collapsed.

The ICG said hunger and lack of economic opportunity, rather than political oppression, was prompting North Koreans to leave.

The ICG called for action to help refugees, "both because humanity demands it and because if the international community cannot quickly get a handle on this situation, it will find it considerably harder to forge an operational consensus on the nuclear issue."


Friday, October 27, 2006

400,000 North Korean refugees have entered China

The plight of North Korean refugees hiding in northeastern China is a humanitarian crisis that has received scant global notice. No one knows how many are in hiding or how many Beijing has deported back to North Korea in violation of its obligations under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Now, three official Chinese government documents--obtained privately and smuggled out of the country--show that the humanitarian crisis may be more dire than widely believed and the burden on China heavier. The documents were obtained by a U.S.-South Korean group that helps North Korean refugees navigate the underground railroad to safety out of China.

[One document states:] "To date, almost 400,000 North Korean illegal immigrants have entered China and large numbers continue to cross the border illegally." And, "As of the end of December 2004, 133,009 North Korean illegal immigrants have been deported."

[Another document reports:] "A report was received from the public of several corpses floating in the Yalu River. Officers from the Precinct immediately responded and organized personnel and 56 corpses had been recovered. … There were 36 males and 20 females, including seven children (five male and two female). After examination of the personal effects it was determined that the dead were citizens of the DPRK [North Korea]. Autopsies confirmed that all 56 had been shot to death. It is estimated that the dead were shot by Korean border guards while attempting to cross into China."

[Excerpt of Opinion written by Melanie Kirkpatrick, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page]

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Refugee disaster a risk of North Korean crisis

North Korea's flow of refugees to China and the world could become a torrent fed by isolation and starvation, an international think-tank warned in a new report urging governments to avoid a catastrophe.

The North's nuclear test, the revival of inflexible controls on farming and trade, and its rejection of aid meant "the perfect storm may be brewing for a return to famine in the North", said the International Crisis Group (ICG).

"Concerned governments can and must do more to improve the situation of the refugees and asylum seekers before it leads to catastrophe," it said in the report.

China, where many North Koreans fleeing economic misery and political repression first head, should stop forcing them back and ease restrictions on North Koreans marrying locals or visiting relatives, said the Brussels-based non-profit group.

But China rejected the report's suggestions, saying it saw the North Koreans not as refugees but illegal immigrants.

China repatriates between 150 and 300 North Koreans every week, the ICG added. "The plight of North Koreans seeking refuge in China ... is likely to get much worse until greater pressure is placed on China to adjust its practices."


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More North Korean Refugees Detained in Thailand

Dozens of North Korean defectors were arrested Tuesday in Thailand after entering the country illegally to seek refuge from their impoverished homeland.

Chun Ki-won, director of the Durihana Mission group that helps North Korean defectors, said 86 refugees were arrested in Bangkok, following the detentions of 10 people there Friday. Ten additional people were picked up Friday, but they had already registered as refugees and were released. Another four defectors eluded capture, Chun said.

The defectors had been sheltered in Thailand with the aid of South Korean missionaries, Chun told The Associated Press from Washington.

Before the latest arrests, about 200 North Korean refugees had already been in custody in Thailand, Chun said. In August, Thai authorities arrested 175 North Korean refugees in Bangkok for illegal entry, the largest known such detention.


[Search this blog (see top right) for more on Chun Ki-won]

Relative Insignificance of North Korean Nukes

The following is by Helen Caldicott, president of the Washington-based Nuclear Policy Research Institute:

It is difficult to underestimate the problems associated with North Korea's recent nuclear weapons test. Following a small atomic explosion of less than 1 kiloton -- the Hiroshima bomb was 13 kilotons -- the U.S. administration [has encouraged] economic sanctions against a desperately poor country where millions of people are malnourished and that will further ostracize a paranoid regime, while the rest of the world looks on with horror as the nuclear arms race threatens to spiral out of control.

While lateral proliferation is indeed an incredibly serious problem as ever-more countries prepare to enter the portals of the nuclear club, one consistent outstanding nuclear threat that continues to endanger most planetary species is ignored by the international community: In fact, the real "rogue" nations that continue to hold the world at nuclear ransom are Russia and the United States.

Of the 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, the United States and Russia possess 96 per cent of them. Of these, Russia aims most of its 8,200 strategic nuclear warheads at U.S. and Canadian targets, while the U.S. aims most of its 7,000 offensive strategic hydrogen bombs on Russian missile silos and command centers.

Each of these thermonuclear warheads has roughly 20 times the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, according to a report on nuclear weapons by the National Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental group.

U.S. Nuclear Weapon Capabilities

With all the [recent press] about North Korea, we're forgetting that the world is still staring down the barrels of thousands of U.S. and Russian ICBMs.

Of the 7,000 U.S. strategic weapons [aimed at Russia], 2,500 are deployed on intercontinental ballistic missiles that are constantly maintained on hair-trigger alert ready for immediate launching, while the U.S. also maintains some 2,688 hydrogen bombs on missiles in its 14 Trident submarines, most ready for instantaneous launching.

According to the Center for Defense Information, a group that analyzes U.S. defence policy, in the event of a suspected attack, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Air Command has only three minutes to decide if a nuclear attack warning is valid. He has 10 minutes to locate the president for a 30-second briefing on attack options, and the president then has three minutes to decide to launch the warheads and to consider which pre-set targeting plan to use.

[Excerpted from an article by Helen Caldicott, president of the Washington-based Nuclear Policy Research Institute]

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Russia's Nuclear Weapon Capabilities

Unlike the combined U.S. and Canadian NORAD early-warning equipment, the Russian system is decaying rapidly, its early-warning satellites are almost non-functional and it now relies on a relatively primitive over-the-horizon radar to warn it of an imminent secret first-strike attack from the United States.

The Russian military and political leaders are suitably paranoid about this extraordinary post-Cold-War situation. So much so that in January 1995 president Boris Yeltsin came to within 10 seconds of launching his nuclear armada when the launch of a Norwegian weather satellite was misinterpreted in Moscow as a pre-emptive U.S. nuclear attack.

Most towns and cities with populations over 50,000 on the North American continent are targeted with at least one hydrogen bomb. Just 1,000 bombs exploding on 100 cities could induce nuclear winter and the end of most life on earth. (There are fewer than 300 major cities in the Northern hemisphere.)

A U.S. Foreign Military Studies Office report states that New York City is the single most important target in the Atlantic region after major military installations. A U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment report estimated that Soviet nuclear war plans had two one-megaton bombs aimed at each of three airports that serve New York, one aimed at each of the major bridges, two at Wall Street and two at each of four oil refineries. The major rail centers and power stations were also targeted, along with the port facilities.

[Excerpted from an article by Helen Caldicott, president of the Washington-based Nuclear Policy Research Institute]

North Korean labor camps: Newborn baby killings

On May 30, 2000, a North Korean refugee, Mr. Lee, was arrested by the Chinese law enforcement authorities while looking for a ship to South Korea. [Those who escape from North Korea and apprehended in China] are sent to concentration camps for seven years for compulsory labor.

In these labor camps, pregnant women are also not allowed to bear their children. Mr. Lee said: "In the camp, there were 94 women, 24 of them pregnant. When I was sent there, eight pregnant women received an injection. They groaned and started going into labor."

Mr. Lee remembers what happened there vividly. The name of the doctor was Lee Min Chol. The doctor asked Mr. Lee to assist with the childbirths.

Mr. Lee recalls: "I was told to place the newborn babies into a table-sized white wooden box. I saw two dead babies in the box. He also told me to throw the umbilical cords into a garbage can. Two newborn babies were still alive. The doctor told me to separate them from their mothers. When I placed them into the wooden box, they were crying and moving their hands and feet. Then, an old doctor came in and hit them in the head with a scissor. The babies died immediately."

Mr. Lee fainted. He was injected with a restorative and ordered to continue work. The remaining six babies were killed. At 8:00pm, the work was over and a security guard removed the wooden box, which contained 10 dead babies.

Mr. Lee adds: "After the forced births, the women were moved to work on cutting grass without even being treated for bleeding."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Deformed babies killed for North Korean super race

The North Korean regime's obsession with racial purity has led to the killing of disabled infants and forced abortions for women suspected of conceiving their babies by Chinese fathers, according to a growing body of testimony from defectors.

The latest description of Kim Jong-il's policy of state eugenics came from a North Korean doctor, Ri Kwang-chol, who escaped last year and told a forum in Seoul that babies with deformities were killed soon after birth. His account added to the evidence that the Kim family dictatorship is founded on mystical notions of Korean racial superiority rather than Marxism - a reality that explains its deepening estrangement from China.

North Korean women refugees have emerged with stories that speak of the regime's preoccupation with "deviant" sexual relations and its predisposition to violence in dealing with them. One such account came from a 30-year-old woman who calls herself Han Myong-suk. She escaped twice and reached a safe haven in an undisclosed third country within the past year thanks to Helping Hands Korea, an American Christian group. She said she was sold by traffickers to a Chinese farmer near the Great Wall, and was five months pregnant by him when she was caught by the Chinese police and deported back to North Korea.

Her account was taken down by Tim Peters, an American Christian activist who founded the group. "I defied the order to abort the fetus the prison authorities contemptuously called a 'Chinese Chink' and was badly beaten and kicked in my belly by a guard.”

One week later, said Ms Han, she was led to a prison clinic "where in a most blunt manner they extracted the dead child from my body".

[Excerpt of an article in The Australian, by Michael Sheridan]

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Humanitarian arguments for and against sanctions for North Korea

For aid-givers to North Korea, the overriding concern is keeping North Koreans from starvation regardless of sanctions.

"We take the news that the internal situation is deteriorating very seriously," says Kay Seok, North Korean researcher for Human Rights Watch. "The right of food is one of the most fundamental human rights. If you die of hunger, what is the point of talking about freedom?"

But others wonder about the degree to which food aid is alleviating suffering.

"Reports show the malnutrition rate did not improve very much" as a result of food donations, says Joanna Hosaniak, senior officer with the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, which aids North Korean refugees.

"Refugees from the northern part of North Korea say they didn't receive humanitarian assistance, or it was diverted after the monitoring group was gone," she adds.

The only solution, she says, is for North Korea to "divert resources from developing nuclear weapons to feeding its people."

Erica Kang at Good Friends, a South Korean group that analyzes North Korean issues and advises on policies, summarizes the aid conundrum.

"Everyone wonders if they should go on with humanitarian aid," she says. "It's pretty much the ordinary people who suffer the most. This is a winter coming. Thousands of North Koreans are suffering the consequences of problems they didn't make."

[Excerpt of an article by Donald Kirk, The Christian Science Monitor]

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sanctions will cause starvation in North Korea

North Korea is facing a cold winter in which it is unlikely to be able to feed its people.

"There is relatively little humanitarian assistance going in now," says Anthony Banbury, the UN World Food Program's regional director for Asia. "The willingness of donors to meet those needs has not been very strong."

The WFP says it needs $100 million this year to fulfill its goals for North Korea. So far, it has received only 10 percent of that total.

The reluctance to try to stave off another famine contrasts with the response in 1995, when North Korea for the first time asked the World Food Program to help.

By 1997, aid shipments through the program crested at more than 500,000 tons a year, with the US leading all donors. But the WFP last year sent in less than 100,000 tons, half of it from the US.

South Korean officials oppose shutting off economic contacts, much less boarding and interdicting North Korean ships, but say they are in a quandary when it comes to donations of rice. "It's a kind of dilemma," says Kang Jong-suk, an official at the Unification Ministry, which had been avidly pursuing reconciliation. "South Korea wants to send some humanitarian aid, but there is a barrier because of the UN resolution."

Banbury opposes giving up. "Walking away would stop assistance to millions of people and would stop an avenue of dialogue," he says. "It's better to stay engaged than to not stay engaged."

[Excerpt of an article by Donald Kirk, The Christian Science Monitor]

Friday, October 20, 2006

Background leading up to North Korean starvation

When the Korean War ended in 1953, the Korean Peninsula was in much worse condition than Japan had been just after the Second World War. In North Korea, the carpet bombing was several times greater than Japan had seen in World War II.

North Korea received particularly generous help from East Germany and Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Mongolia and China …. In 1959, only six years after the war, North Koreans returning from Japan arrived at Pyongyang and were astounded by the high-rise apartment buildings lining the street in front of the station. This was a surprise to the entire world.

[However, the food situation] in North Korea has not been improved since the mid-1960s. It appears that Kim Il Sung and the top Labor Party members abandoned their efforts to improve the national economy; they gave themselves over to luxury. … Still, we heard nothing of the new "starvation hell" until the 1990s.

The starvation in North Korea became critical primarily due to several major external elements: the collapse of the Soviet Union; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the end of the socialist system in Eastern Europe; the recognition of South Korea by China; and the diplomatic ties with South Korea that China and Russia concluded.

Domestically, the farming methods failed, including terraced fields and high-density farming, as instructed by Kim Il Sung, who was an absolute amateur in the field. The personality cult system led to disapproval of engineers. At the same time, they had difficulty securing adequate transportation and storage, electric power, fertilizers, and petroleum. In addition, unfair distribution of profits discouraged people from working.

All these factors contributed to the worsening of their food situation. The current starvation was brought about by the external and internal factors mentioned above.